Praise & Reviews
Sante writes what is often called “immaculate prose.” Actually his sentences are maculate in exactly the right ways, lithe and tight but stained with musk and breath…. Sante’s deep preoccupation is an outlaw history of Modernism in which avant-gardists and roustabouts sync up. With each new old thing his eye and phrasing fall on, Sante picks up a mystery to unfold, smooth out and trickily refold. He claims it, and hands it on.
—Frances Richard, The Nation
At once tough in his thinking, empathic in his analysis, and liberated in his expression, Sante selects barbed details, tunes in to danger and suspense, and dispenses wry humor and sure insight.
The salvaging of the discarded is a fundamental act in all of Sante’s writing, and it is anything but casual…. The whole drama of present life fighting its way through a labyrinth of inherited artifacts is played out. We are made to look at what was always there and almost always unnoticed.
—Geoffrey O’Brien, The New York Review of Books
New York City is fated always to remain my home, writes Sante, who became permanently linked with the city through the underground history he recounted in Low Life, and the lead-off essay in this collection revisits the frame of mind he was in when he conceived that book in the Lower East Side of the early 1980s. The best essays that follow maintain that strong personal connection, such as an eyewitness account of a riot in Tompkins Square Park or the time he lived in the same apartment building as Allen Ginsberg (who suffered me, if not especially gladly). The book and music reviews that make up the bulk of the remaining material are usually insightful and occasionally contain striking imagery: he describes, for example, how the punk-country band the Mekons built an imaginary America out of pocket lint. But collecting disparate pieces in a single volume is a risky proposition, and sometimes an awkward skip, as in a chapter on two books by photographer Michael Lesy, temporarily exposes the anthology’s patchwork nature. It’s worth working through those rough patches, however, to soak up Sante’s various observations on the long legacy of outsider culture, from Rimbaud through Buddy Bolden to Bob Dylan.
Creative social critic Sante has electrifying things to say about intriguing subjects, ranging from New Year’s to Walker Evans, but it is his feint-and-jab prose that makes him noteworthy. At once tough in his thinking, empathic in his analysis, and liberated in expression, Sante selects barbed details, tunes in to danger and suspense, and dispenses wry humor and sure insight. In a memoirist mode, he chronicles a precollege stint in a small and brutal plastic factory in New Jersey, and writes evocatively about living in New York during its decline in the 1970s and 1980s and under Giuliani. His passion for music inspires a fresh look at the blues, a sharp assessment of Bob Dylan, and a caustic takedown of the Woodstock myth. Revisiting Victor Hugo and Rene Magritte yields unexpected results, as does an inquiry into the many meanings of dope. And then there’s his tribute to the lost pleasures of cigarettes, in which he concludes, “We may all have stopped smoking, but we continue to burn.” Sante is certainly on fire.